John Paul II beatification: Politics of saint-making

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Catholics may believe there is something supernatural about their Church, but as the 13th Century theologian St Thomas Aquinas taught, it is not exempt from the normal realities of human nature - including the laws of psychology, sociology, and even politics.

If that is true of the Church writ large, it is also true of the business of declaring saints. That fact will be on clear display on 1 May, when Pope John Paul II is beatified, the final step before sainthood, in a ceremony in Rome that is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to St Peter's Square.

 John Paul's beatification comes just six years and one month after his death in 2005. The perception of haste has puzzled some observers, especially those inclined to question the late pope's record on combating the scourge of clerical sexual abuse.

Formally speaking, the Vatican's explanation is that all the traditional criteria have been met. There is a popular grassroots conviction that John Paul was a holy man - an exhaustive four-volume Vatican study concluded that he lived a life of "heroic virtue" - and a miracle has been documented as resulting from his intervention.

The miracle involves the healing of a 49-year-old French nun from Parkinson's disease, the same affliction from which the late pope suffered....

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